Monday, July 19, 2010
Deviating from my typical modus operandus of following the chef, last night I destined my dining to Kingswood. For some inexplicable reason, it is one of those kind of sceney, trendy joint that I actually wanted to go to. I guess part of it has to do with that it is located on the same street where is my very first New York apartment, on West 10th. It also used to house a really excellent restaurant (Jefferson Grill) before its latest incarnation. Jefferson Grill was New American, and though Kingswood purports itself to be Aussie-influenced, I think some of its predecessor's influence survived the fire. Well, its latest incarnation after it burned down and then rebuilt. I never visited prior to its incineration, and with the burning hot summer reaching its climax, it seemed appropriate to do so now.
Walking past the glass front facade, the Kingswood is almost always bustling and lively, and great smells emanate from the hood vents. It's not categorically a chef-driven restaurant per se, but it kept calling me, so I figured it was worth a shot.
Packed house, as usual, and it pretty much just busier as the night progressed. We started with a seasonal special, a rather bountiful salad of asparagus, multi-hued cherry tomatoes and myriad little lettuces. Slightly overdressed, perhaps, but a pretty nice summer salad. Late dinner that it was, we split the starter and headed off to the main courses. Purportedly the "best mussels in the city" by a friend of my friend, we went for those first. Rich in a coconut curry with enough cilantro to carpet a small forest, these were, surprisingly, some really excellent mussels. Not a bad one in the bowl, each crustacean meaty and mild, tender and plump. The broth was spiked with jalapeno to add muscle to the mussels and cut any extraneous sweetness of the coconut. A return-worthy dish. My halibut, on the other hand, was solid, but not exceptionally memorable. Generous amount of fish, lightly sauteed, and bedded with a slightly Asian flavored melange of spinach and snow peas. Tasty, if a bit oily, but good enough. Good enough for a joint with a vibe, with lovely diners and lovelier staff, whom are all perfectly attentive if not particularly doting. The room is a bit raucous; the noise levels can compete with conversation, but it's all pretty much to be expected. Fashionably low-lit (and thus the abysmal photography), bare bulbs, plain votives and rustic wood tables constitute the decor. But in good company, of which I undoubtedly enjoyed, and good spirits (of both varieties), this is established little restaurant with tasty food. A destination for ambiance and experience, if not so much for brag-worthy cuisine. The food is good enough, though, that we stayed even for dessert: a slightly too gelatinized panna cotta with a sidekick of apricot coulis. It was sweet, and cool, but the apricot were strangely bland even as they are coming into their peak season. Two big almond biscotti came along for the ride, but I would've preferred a buttery shortbread or almond tuile... something with a little more pizzazz.
And I guess that's sort of the synopsis of the restaurant, where the energy and verve is more in the crowd and the space than on the plate, but neither seems to suffer much in each other's company, and the food actually seems to benefit. I come away from Kingswood kinda liking the place (perhaps it's a bit of that Aussie charm), and wouldn't even disfavor a repeat visit, were it to present itself.